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Tuesday 06.30.15

« Environmental Impact Statement at Surplus Space | Main | First Thursday Picks July 2015 »

PORT is 10


This June marked PORT's tenth anniversary and with over 3,000 posts (2500comments) and a whopping 1.5 million+ unique readers in 2014 alone we are Portland's most critically attuned and comprehensively perceptive visual art website, period. We didn't want to dwell on that so instead we will make our 10 year a bit of a case study on the role of criticism and the way it interfaces with the visual arts ecosystem (here is a primer, a much longer essay is coming your way). Part of our role is to counter those Very Portland passive aggressive tendencies, while giving scope and scale to an Eutrophicated art scene with far more activity than any city this size should normally have. We do this by taking a position while acknowledging other ones in doing so. Art critics are incredibly rare and it goes without saying but 10 years on the internet is like living to 100 in human years.

We bet you wonder what you think about news today? Well its coming (we are the only outlet with enough experience to unpack it locally), and yes the Guenther piece is coming for your post holiday summer reading. It discusses way more than Bruce's time at PAM, pivoting to a discussion of the way curatorial roles have been shifting all along. Nice timing eh? Way back in 2007 we helped lead the online art discussion in Art In America and this year I want to re-open that can of worms in a revealing way that presents an anatomy of criticism's evolution. Wait till you see what we've got coming, including a hard publication, high level events (partnering with some of our sponsors), site redesign, + great interviews, deep historical analysis and bespoke reviews with "teeth"... the kind that reach far beyond the Pacific Northwest. Our reviews mean something because we don't judge things by the local or even current art world standards, we compare against relevant models (often historical) even in other disciplines. Portland isn't good at assessing scale and scope, and that's PORT's specialty.

It goes without saying that if there's a big story, people seek out what we think. One example would be the way we were the first to see how PNCA's 511 building could be a game changer, not just for school but the entire city which is recalibrating itself as a creative hub. Granted, there are still challenges (our awards and survey shows tend to lag, rather than wag the dog of culture around here, that said it has improved steadily). We simply need to get better about identifying and rewarding talent if Portland is to keep the tremendous creative edge we have developed. These days, companies go where the workforce is... so we need to make certain that innovators feel welcome and supported here in Portland and we like our role as the strongest visual art talent scout in the area... it is something journalists don't do, having an "eye" really isn't their thing. It is also why we generally don't interview curators or gallerists because it is generally boilerplate and our readers can think for themselves.

Thankfully, we aren't journalists, instead our writers are insiders and art geek experts who can parse a press release in ways generalists cant and I've always seen the site as a Herodotus-like first stab at history as it happens (warts and all). Sometimes we have the story first, sometimes we sit on it and chime in last. We publish bespoke visual art writing, where each writer is encouraged to try any experimental approach... just as long as it pushes the envelopes of understanding... rather than a lot of arts writing today which colors nice within lines somewhere between PR and a referential checklist that burnishes CV's. Basically, we insist on a strong point of view and its why we only interview artists who have received a certain amount of critical praise. As PORT's Publisher and Chief Critic is a tremendous privilege to work with our writers and sponsors, it is rewarding to see how everyone develops and in most ways support one another.

Lastly, PORT has always been a group effort as this early interview in the Mercury from 2005 can attest. We are planning a site revamp and a retrospective publication along with other events (some major) over the next 11 months.

Criticism matters a great deal in a smaller city like Portland, which can fall into too easy a consensus. That is why PORT matters, what we do may be wonderful or unsettling to some but it always presents a developed viewpoint that comes from experience... not a generalist writer or the typical career driven academician, but one of real expertise that is unafraid to share it. Watch us over the next 11 months, the things we have planned will continue to shake things up and redefine the discussion around art as lensed through Portland.

I'll have a few posts here and there but for the next few weeks I'm mostly going to take a micro-holiday (I don't get those often). To be sure though we will check back in and give the sort of analysis with edge coupled with experience nobody else can match in Portland.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on June 30, 2015 at 12:58 | Comments (2)


maybe time for a redesign

Posted by: Harold Benson [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 1, 2015 10:49 PM

As mentioned above, a redesign is already in the works. I wanted to have a clear ideas on how to do something innovative, yet not diluted. Part of our success is the simplicity and straight forward identity. You try to be too many things to too many people and a publication (arts publications in particular) lose their way.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 2, 2015 02:16 PM

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